You're Never Too Young to See the World : A Solo Traveler's Journey
It was a warm Saturday morning in Johannesburg, South Africa when I woke up and turned to my friend Tyla and said, “Today I really want to get that tattoo.” She quickly said, “Alright then, my mother can drop you by the place once we go pick up uncle.” Two hours later, because nothing is close in the largest landlocked city on earth, we arrive at a tattoo studio. I believe we just went to the first on we saw. I had been living in South Africa for nearly a year on my first solo trip abroad. I was now 21 years old and wanted something to commemorate my journey. I decided to get one of my favorite quotes.
My name is Le’Ana Freeman, I am 25 years old and I have been traveling for 6 years and have spent a combined total of 3 years living between India, South Africa, and Thailand. I’ve been to 17 countries with no plans of slowing down. To understand how I transformed my life from being a college student to a 20 something expat, we have to take it back to 2012. This was the year I graduated with a high school diploma and a two-year associates degree. My high school had a program called “Running Start” which allowed eligible high school juniors to start college at 16 in hopes of graduating with their first degree at 18. This way, they could transfer to any university as a junior and could complete their Bachelors by 20. Apart of my reasoning for doing this program was the desire to study abroad as soon as I started at my university. And that’s exactly what I did. I began school at Western Washington University in September and by January of 2013, I was on my first study abroad through the Institute of Village Studies to Thailand and India. I returned from this two-month experiential learning coarse in March of 2013 and couldn’t get enough. By the summer of that same year I was on another study abroad program to South Africa where I conducted interviews and researched racial income disparity post Aparthied.
By this time, I was hooked on travel and seemingly found a way to combine my love of travel with my post-secondary education. My plan was to return to my university and try to see if I could transfer to a school in the Czech Republic and finish my bachelors there. But as I started what would have been my senior year of college, I was told by a mentor to apply to the Fairhaven Adventure Learning Grant which would give two lucky winners 15,000 USD to take a year off of college and travel around the world. At first, I scoffed at the idea. The grant stipulated that you must be gone for a minimum of 10 months and couldn’t return to the United States within that time period. But I made my mind up to apply two days before the deadline, and submitted it with no intention of actually getting it. So, when I did, I decided to extend my graduation two more years (I had a 4-year free tuition scholarship anyway) and begin the arduous task of planning my first solo trip abroad and certainly my longest. Fast forward, and I am getting this tattoo as my grant is only days from ending. I returned to my university to graduate college and two monthsbefore graduation, I became the first woman of color at my university to win a Fulbright Scholarship to work with the U.S. Embassy in Chennai, India as an educator.
Now I am living and working in Thailand, where I have lived for almost 2 years. I have noticed that it’s not as common to see young expats; especially of color. I have however seen more and more people from underrepresented backgrounds traveling and expanding their horizons on a global scale. This precisely why I started my travel business “Let Me Plan your Travels” as a way to help young people, people of color, or those just interested sorting out the logistics of their trip get the expertise they need to have a smooth journey. When I went on my first solo trip to South Africa, I receive no guidance whatsoever on how to move abroad, how to be an expat, or how be a solo woman of color traveling. More alarmingly, I found that there were no blogs or advice that seemed to represent me. Through work with high end luxury clients and organizing expensive vacations, I later honed my skills and have had the opportunity to plan a variety of trips, most recently a honeymoon! My advice for young people or anyone looking to make their lives abroad, study abroad, or just do some exploring, is to stop repeating to yourself all the reasons it isn’t possible and stay open to the fact that you don’t even know what you don’t know. For instance, I moved to Thailand with only 1,000 USD to my name to begin my TEFL course. No job and no family or friends to lean on. I bought myself a roundtrip ticket and said, if I don’t have a job in two months, I’ll go back to the U.S. Well, my two months flew by and I hadn’t found a job, although I had applied to several. I decided to let the plane take off without me and take a giant leap of faith. The very next day, I received a job offer from the company I still work for today. Had I fed those doubts and reservations, I would still be in the rainy cold Portland, Oregon instead of Bangkok, a city that where it never gets cold.
You can find Le’Ana here
Facebook: Le’Ana Freeman